Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its proposed guidelines for “mandatory” labeling of GMO foods and ingredients.
Under the USDA's proposal, consumers would still be mostly left in the dark about which foods on their grocery shelves are genetically engineered and/or contain genetically modified ingredients.
Why? Because as our friends at Food Revolution Network put it, the USDA’s GMO labeling plan is “so full of loopholes you could drive a truckload of Roundup through it.”
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It’s been nearly two years since Congress rammed through a federal GMO labeling law, preempting Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law which had taken effect just weeks earlier.
Congress and industry lobbyists tried to disguise the bill as a “federal, mandatory, labeling solution,” arguing that individual state laws would be too confusing and too expensive for the food industry.
But if that were really the case, all Congress had to do was pass a strong mandatory labeling law, just like Vermont’s.
Instead, with the help of pesticide and junk food corporate lobbyists (and a little extra help from some unlikely suspects), Congress took a different route. And in July 2016, then-President Obama signed into law what quickly became known as the “DARK” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, a weak law aimed more at helping food corporations hide information about GMOs, than at providing consumers truthful information about what’s in their food.
Congress passed the DARK Act with one goal in mind: to shut down the GMO labeling movement for good.
Now, the USDA is trying to seal that deal by proposing GMO labeling guidelines guaranteed to keep as much information as possible hidden from consumers.
What’s wrong with the USDA proposed GMO labeling guidelines?
The USDA’s proposed GMO labeling guidelines go out of their way to accommodate those food companies that don’t want you to know if you’re eating GMO foods. Here’s how.
Companies would be allowed to use electronic QR codes instead of clearly stating on the package “produced with genetic engineering” or “contains genetically engineered ingredients.” The USDA’s own study on the use of QR codes identified numerous challenges and concluded that “offline alternatives are necessary for consumers who lack access to a scanning device or broadband.” Despite these findings, the USDA’s proposed guidelines would allow companies to use electronic codes that force consumers to visit the product’s website in order to figure out if the product is GMO. And there’s nothing in the guidelines to indicate that companies would be prohibited from collecting consumers’ personal data.
Companies would use the word “bioengineered” instead of “genetically modified” or “genetically engineered.” The food industry knows full well that GMO, genetically modified, and genetically engineered are household words, thanks to the food movement. The use of “bioengineered,” represented as “BE” instead of “GE” or “GMO” is intended to obfuscate, not inform.
Companies could use deceptive and promotional symbols. The USDA’s proposed symbols, which include cheerful sunbursts and smiley faces, would also use “BE” instead of “GMO.” Companies would be allowed to choose from a variety of images, rather than one standard, neutral image, similar to the USDA Organic symbol.
A long list of exceptions would mean only about 30 percent of GMO ingredients would even have to be labeled. The USDA is proposing that many of the most common ingredients derived from GMO soy, corn, canola and sugar beets, for instance, be exempted from the labeling requirements if the ingredients have been highly refined or processed. The guidelines would also exempt the growing number of new gene-editing technologies, such as CRISPR—recently linked to cancer.
Companies would be off the hook for labeling until 2022. This is just another bow to corporate pressure to delay the process, keeping consumers in the dark for as long as possible.
Under the federal law passed in 2016, the USDA is required to finalize GMO labeling rules by July 29. But that deadline is likely to come and go, given how controversial the guidelines are.
We have until July 3 to let the USDA know what consumers really want—clear, on-package labels on all foods that contain GMOs.